[Heb., bar·bu·rimʹ (plural)].
This name occurs only once in the Bible, at 1 Kings 4:23 where the list of daily provisions of food for Solomon’s court includes “fattened cuckoos [bar·bu·rimʹ].” (JB; NW) While AV, RS and other versions here read “fatted fowl,” bar·bu·rimʹ seems to refer to a specific kind of bird rather than being simply a general term. Though some have identified it with the capon, the guinea hen, or the goose, lexicographers Koehler and Baumgartner (Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, p. 147) suggest the “cuckoo,” and this seems to be indicated by the Arabic name for that bird, namely ʼabu burbur. The Hebrew name, like the English name, is evidently in imitation of the bird’s call, since that of the female cuckoo is said to be a chuckling sound like that of “bubbling water with guttural intonation.”
The common cuckoo and the great spotted cuckoo both pass through Palestine on their northern migration, arriving in early March. The cuckoo is a moderate-sized bird, resembling a small hawk, with a slightly curved, sharp-pointed beak. The head is usually gray, the long, pointed wings are brown, the long tail is rounded, and the underbelly and thighs are gray or brown and spotted or barred.
While some consider the cuckoo to be a rather small bird to be used on Solomon’s menu, it may be noted that even plucked sparrows were anciently sold in Eastern markets. (Matt. 10:29) Additionally, these cuckoos were “fattened” ones, and concerning such The American Cyclopoedia (1883, Vol. V, p. 557) says: “In autumn they are fat and esteemed as food; the ancients were very partial to them, and their flesh was supposed to have valuable medicinal properties.” The Romans are known to have eaten stuffed cuckoos, and cuckoos are said to be considered a delicacy even till this day in Italy and Greece.
While the “cuckow” is included in the King James Version as among the unclean birds, at Leviticus 11:16 and Deuteronomy 14:15, this translation (of the Hebrew shaʹhhaph) is no longer considered acceptable. (See GULL.) The cuckoo is neither a carrion eater nor a bird of prey, but a valuable consumer of insects. It was legally “clean” and fit for use on the royal table.
Some, but not all, types of cuckoo have parasitical habits in their egg-laying, making use of the nests of other birds and leaving one egg in each of several nests for the foster-parent birds to hatch and care for. Quite amazing is the fact that, even though the parent birds have already migrated to northern lands, and even though hatched by non-migrating birds, the orphaned young cuckoos, on reaching the point of flying, will unhesitatingly take off on migration, in some cases unerringly traveling up to 2,150 miles (3,459 kilometers), to join the parent birds that have preceded them.